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Fans watch from Copacabana Beach as Brazil plays its first World Cup game

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's a holiday of sorts in Brazil today, too - not officially, but kids got out of school early. Some stores and government offices closed. The occasion? The Brazilian national soccer team's first match in the World Cup - they beat Serbia two to nothing. NPR's Carrie Kahn watched the game, along with lots of fans at a bar on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Carrie, tough assignment. Paint a picture for us. What was it like at this bar during the game?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It was so tense in that first half, Ari. I was really excited to come and have some fun at the beach on Thanksgiving.

SHAPIRO: You almost couldn't drink your caipirinha, it was so tense.

KAHN: (Laughter) It was. But that first half was so tense. There was no cheering and then the first goal.

(CHEERING)

KAHN: It was, like, this collective cathartic release. You should have seen the face of our NPR producer here, Val De Margio (ph). He was finally smiling. It was great.

SHAPIRO: Well, tell us about the fans. Who did you talk to there?

KAHN: I spoke to a young man. He was 19-year-old Alesandre Magaliuns. He was so excited with his friends on the ground walkway along Copacabana Beach.

ALESANDRE MAGALIUNS: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: He's saying, "I'm so happy. I'm so happy." He said this is the first World Cup he's really been into, and he's just sure that Brazil will win it all.

SHAPIRO: OK. Beyond that bar, tell us about what it sounds like amounted to a national holiday in Brazil today.

KAHN: Well, everyone is watching here. And it's not an official holiday, like you said, but schools let kids out early. And I've been seeing signs for days leading up to the World Cup with special hours when every time Brazil plays, shops are closed, and then they will reopen 20 minutes after the end of the game. With extra time, you know, you never know exactly when the game will end. The beach that I'm sitting on right now is the - all along the boulevard is jam packed. But there's no one on the sand. There's no one in the water. The bars are just packed. And there's - if you could hear the music just blaring behind me.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, I hear that.

KAHN: FIFA has set up a fan fest here, and there's just a concert going on. People are celebrating.

SHAPIRO: So what are Brazil's chances in the World Cup? Are they likely to go all the way?

KAHN: They are one of the favorites to win. A lot of people are saying that right now in the rankings. They are five-time World Cup winners. This is a record, and they're going for what's called a hexa, a sixth win. They have a really strong team this year with an amazing offense, with huge names like Neymar and Richarlison. He's the one who scored both of the goals today. They all are very strong forwards, and they all play in the European leagues. If someone were to get injured, Brazil has a long, deep bench that they can go to. They have three really strong goalies, and people are pointing to one weakness. They have a 39-year-old middle back, but they just say this is their World Cup to lose.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly, in our last 30 seconds or so, you've been reporting on some controversy over the yellow national soccer jersey that was associated with Jair Bolsonaro, who recently lost his reelection bid. Are people wearing that jersey today?

KAHN: Everybody here was wearing it. It seems to be that everybody's rallying around the team, and it looks like it's been a - it was a very bruising election here. The country was politically divided, but it seems like they will unite around the World Cup, especially if Brazil wins.

SHAPIRO: All right. Get back to the beach. NPR's Carrie Kahn in Rio de Janeiro. Thanks a lot.

KAHN: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.